Lazy Saturday Reads: Epic Disasters and Russia Investigation News

Couch on the Porch by Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

The news today is full of disasters, and it looks like that will continue over the weekend.

The New York Times has live updates on Hurricane Irma: Hurricane Irma Live Updates: ‘The Storm Is Here,’ Florida Governor Says.

Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida on Saturday, leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean and prompting one of the largest emergency evacuations in American history.

The storm shifted west, putting the Florida Keys in its cross hairs and prompting officials to open more shelters. By 7 a.m., the outer bands of Irma had begun moving into Miami-Dade County.

“Expect damaging winds and heavy rain,” the National Weather Service warned.

At least 20 people were confirmed dead by Friday night, when Irma made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5, lashing the island’s northern coast with a direct hit.

The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 around 5 a.m. but was expected to strengthen before reaching Florida. About 5.6 million people — more than a quarter of the state’s population — have been ordered to leave their homes.

“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said at news conference Saturday morning, noting that 25,000 people had already lost power.

He said the storm surge could reach 12 feet. “This will cover your house,” he said. “You will not survive all this storm surge.”

The Boston Globe: How Hurricane Irma became so huge and destructive.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

As Hurricane Irma barrels dangerously toward Florida, scientists say that a perfect mix of meteorological conditions has conspired over the past week to make the storm unusually large and powerful.

“You need just the right ingredients for a hurricane of this magnitude to last for so long,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. “And Irma has had them all.”

Weather forecasters had already expected this summer to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean because of warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures, which provide fuel for hurricanes, as well as weaker-than-average wind shear, which can help to dissipate storms.

But even in that context, Irma was special.

Read the rest at the Globe.

Also worth reading is this meditation on Florida’s history by Michael Gruenwald at Politico: A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been.

ORLANDO, Fla.—The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Edmond François Aman-Jean (French artist, 1858–1936) Women Reading 1922

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

Head over to Politico to read the rest.

Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. NBC News: Mexico Earthquake Death Toll Climbs as Dozens Sleep on Streets.

JUCHITAN, Mexico — The death toll from one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico rose to at least 61 early Saturday as workers scrambled to respond to the destruction just as Hurricane Katia struck its coastline.

The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.

Edward Dufner (1871-1957), USA, 1938

In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.

“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbors on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”

And that’s not all.

Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm when it made landfall. And it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm. The center said Katia was expected to dissipate over the course of Saturday.

But it was still expected to bring life-threatening floods and storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of the storm’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.

The Washington Post: Jose, ‘still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,’ threatens second blow to Irma-ravaged islands.

CABARET, Haiti — Hurricane Jose, a powerhouse tropical cyclone barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, is now a “little weaker but still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” officials said.

The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm churned toward the northern Leeward Islands. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm. Forecasters, however, cautioned that “some fluctuation in intensity, up or down, could occur during the next 24 hours.”

A hurricane warning is in effect for Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts.

Nora Heysen (1911-2003) London breakfast, 1935

Barbuda, which had been obliterated by Irma, has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. The islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius are also under a tropical storm warning.

Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are under a tropical storm watch.

Once Jose passes the northern Leeward Islands, Jose is projected to hook north and steadily lose muscle. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage during Irma.

The disasters caused by Hurricane Harvey have fallen off the front pages, but here’s an update at The New York Times: In Houston After the Storm, a City Split in Two.

HOUSTON — Natural disasters are capricious, carving a hopscotching path of destruction that can swamp one neighborhood but spare another, destroy a city block but leave one lone house untouched.

Across swaths of Houston, buzzing lawn mowers, crowded running paths and reopened Tex-Mex restaurants dishing out queso dip are the mile markers of a dried-out city hustling back to business.

Standing woman, reading under a tree René de Groux

But Nikki Thomason’s Houston feels like a different city altogether, one where Harvey never left.

Nearly two weeks had passed since the storm blew through, but on Thursday, brown, rancid water still filled the streets around her home in the Thornwood neighborhood, eddying around her front door and lapping at her living room windows.

“There’s two Houstons right now,” Ms. Thomason, 37, said. “We’re watching all these people begin to rebuild their lives and we’re stuck in this weird purgatory. We can’t even get our things.”

After a storm as widespread and devastating as Hurricane Harvey, which ground much of Texas to a dead stop for days and caused at least 60 deaths and up to $180 billion in damage, regular life in Houston now comes with a twinge of survivor’s guilt. It is only amplified by the knowledge that even as Houston cleans up, Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.

In Russia investigation news, Bob Mueller has signaled his intention to question Trump current and former staffers. The Washington Post: Mueller gives White House names of 6 aides he expects to question in Russia probe.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the request.

Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

John Lavery (Irish Painter, 1856-1941) Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pool

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, according to people familiar with the probe, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey. Also of interest is the White House’s initial inaction after warnings about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s December discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States….

Roughly four weeks ago, the special counsel’s team provided the White House with the names of the first group of current and former Trump advisers and aides whom investigators expect to question.

In addition to Priebus, Spicer and Hicks, Mueller has notified the White House he will probably seek to question White House counsel Don McGahn and one of his deputies, James Burnham. Mueller’s office has also told the White House that investigators may want to interview Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

From expert on Russia Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post: The case for Trump-Russia collusion: We’re getting very, very close.

We now know the motives. In backing Donald Trump, Russia’s oligarchical class sought not only to disrupt U.S. politics but also to reverse sanctions, both those applied in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and those connected to the Magnitsky Act, which targeted officials involved in human rights violations. In seeking Russian support, Trump sought not only to become president but also to make money: Even as he launched his presidential campaign, he hoped to receive a major influx of money from a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

Frank Dicey (1838-1888) The Novel, A Lady in a Garden reading a book.

Along with the motives, we know the methods. As the New York Times has just graphically demonstrated, professional Russian Internet trolls, probably operating out of St. Petersburg, set up hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts during the election campaign. The trolls then posted thousands of fake stories, memes and slogans, supported anti-Clinton hashtags and narratives, and linked back to DCLeaks, the website that posted emails that Russian hackers stole from the Clinton campaign.  The emails “revealed” by that hack were utterly banal. But the fake operatives said they contained “hidden truths,” hinted that they were part of a secret “Soros” operation, after liberal financier George Soros, and persuaded people to click. This is a method Russian operatives had used before. Previous elections, in Poland and Ukraine, demonstrated that stolen material — any stolen material — can be used to foment conspiracy theories that never die.

We know what happened next: The fake stories, memes and slogans moved from the network of Russian-sponsored “American” accounts into the networks of real Americans. Some, such as “pizzagate,” the theory that Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring being run out of Washington pizza parlor, got a lot of attention. Others, such as the theory that Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, or the theory that the Google search engine was working on Clinton’s behalf, got less attention but were notable for another reason: They were not only promoted on the fake Russian network, which bought advertising in order to push them further, but also were promoted on open Russian news networks, including the Sputnik English-language news services. Afterwards, they were repeated, also openly, by candidate Trump.

Click on the link to read more.

So . . . what stories are you following today?

68 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: Epic Disasters and Russia Investigation News”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    If you’re in the path of the hurricanes, please take care and stay safe.

    • Enheduanna says:

      That thing is going to come right through ATL! as a strong storm, 50 mph winds or so and about 5″ of rain. The worst here will be Monday night. I have a gum surgery appointment at 2:30 Monday afternoon. What a swell day Monday is going to be…

      • Sweet Sue says:

        Best of luck with your gum surgery, Enheduanna. I’m in the midst of a complete mouth over haul (so much for a bathroom remodel) so I feel great empathy.

        • NW Luna says:

          Hope your procedures go well. It sounds very unpleasant. But wise of you to take care of dental/oral health — it’s so important to overall health.

      • bostonboomer says:

        You might have to reschedule that appointment. Please be careful and stay safe.

        • Enheduanna says:

          Thank you BB! I tried calling them yesterday but they aren’t open on Friday. Maybe they’ll let me off the hook!

      • NW Luna says:

        Be careful! Surely the hurricane is enough of an excuse to reschedule. 50mph winds and 5″ of rain in a short period of time? Hope you stay safe.

        • Enheduanna says:

          Thank you Luna! Looks like now they are tracking the storm more to the west of us. The worst will be late Monday night/early Tuesday.

    • dakinikat says:

      I was watching MSNBC and there was a reporter talking to people in Fort Meyers who lived in trailers still cleaning out from flooding in Harvey. They are staying put. There is still standing water and potential projectiles every where. Why on earth does a place like Florida allow mobile homes in the flood and hurricane zones? That’s insane! There’s no way any one should be living in a manufactured how in hurricane alley or the worst sections of tornado alley. They simply can’t take the wind!!!

      • Enheduanna says:

        I used to live on Fort Myers Beach and actually went through both Donna in 1960 and Betsy in 1965 (I was 5 and 10 yrs old respectively). They always evacuate the island.

        On Fort Myers Beach there is a trailer park called Red Coconut Resort Park and it’s been there since we lived there – so for well over 60 years. I hate to think what the surge associated with this storm will do to that park.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Updates on the wildfires out west:

    NYT: ‘The Lungs of Our Region Are on Fire:’ Wildfires Exact a Punishing Toll on the West

    Quartz: This year’s devastating wildfire season in the American west, in photos

    WaPo: Wildfires have burned an area the size of Maryland

    Grist: Western wildfires could still be burning by Halloween.

  3. bostonboomer says:


  4. Pat Johnson says:

    Great post news round up, bb!

    I really love the paintings you include. So peaceful for the system just to look and contemplate earlier times.

    Especially now. Thanks for making them a part of your postings!

  5. Jslat says:

    BB, thanks for the “reading” ladies. Whether it’s books or newspapers, your ladies always bring a sense of calm to my upside down world.

  6. Pat Johnson says:

    MSNBC just showed morons surfing off the coast in Miami.

    No matter how dire the broadcast reports of incredible danger there are enough idiots out there treating it like a sport.

    Who do these dimwits blame should they not make it? Waves coming in predicted to be 6 to 10 feet in height should be frightening enough to scare the hell out of them since the average person measures 6 feet!

    Stupidity galore.

  7. Enheduanna says:

    Wow – aurora borealis off Cape Cod, Massachusetts? BB – did you hear about this? Picture from Sept. 7:

    If you read the description of the photo it says you can use your eclipse glasses to see the giant solar active region responsible for the geomagnetic storm creating the light display. I just tried with the glasses and couldn’t see it, though.

    • NW Luna says:

      Oh, I love APOD! I have it on the top of my bookmarks. Apparently there’s an incredibly strong solar storm going on and that’s why the aurora borealis can be seen so far south.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Oh shit.

  9. NW Luna says:

    Misogyny test: Reverse the expectation of behavior and see what happens.

    • Sweet Sue says:

      The burka is a living death, isn’t it? Who needs to die before a shroud?
      Culture be damned.

  10. NW Luna says:

    For dakinikat and others interested in tombs and history. No links to articles; will try to find out more.

  11. dakinikat says:

    They’re still thinking Jared Kushner helped the trolls target areas.


    In the constant flood of Trump news, there’s one development campaign professionals should keep their eye on: the Russia investigation now involves the digital arm of the winning 2016 presidential campaign.

    Investigators want answers from Jared Kushner (who oversaw his father-in-law’s online campaign) and Trump digital director Brad Parscale about any possible connection with Russia’s work to interfere with the 2016 election. Parscale agreed to meet with the House Intelligence Committee, though I haven’t seen any follow-up to date. In a statement last month, Parscale said he was “unaware of any Russian involvement in the digital and data operation” in the Trump campaign.

    Investigators are looking at any potential campaign involvement in Russian distribution of stolen Democratic emails and other documents, including anything related to the now-famous campaign meeting involving a Russian lawyer. Another topic on the House committee’s mind: whether Trump’s campaign passed targeting data to the Russian bot nets that were trashing Hillary Clinton on social media.

  12. NW Luna says:

    Probably we’ve all seen this before, but let’s stock up on more humor!

  13. dakinikat says:

  14. cheekos says:

    The linked Op-Ed from the NY Times quite eloquently describes the racist and hateful effects of eliminating DACA can be on multi-diverse areas like Houston post-Harvey, will have in Florida post-Irma, and many other regions of the Nation. When someone offers a desperate person aid, you really don;’t check the color of their skin, worry if they are straight or gay, ask for their papers, etc. It’;s just people-to-people, helping one another!

    • Catscatscats says:

      Beautifully expressed OpEd. Too bad the Yam wouldn’t understand the sentiments even if he were to read it. Thanks, Cheekos, for sharing that and for your comments as well.

  15. NW Luna says:

  16. joanelle says:

    Thanks BB, wonderful post. Chock ful of good information 😳